The Delusion of Control

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (June 24 2015)

I’m sure most of my readers have heard at least a little of the hullaballoo surrounding the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si. It’s been entertaining to watch, not least because so many politicians in the United States who like to use Vatican pronouncements as window dressing for their own agendas have been left scrambling for cover now that the wind from Rome is blowing out of a noticeably different quarter.

Take Rick Santorum, a loudly Catholic Republican who used to be in the US Senate and now spends his time entertaining a variety of faux-conservative venues with his signature flavor of hate speech. Santorum loves to denounce fellow Catholics who disagree with Vatican edicts as “cafeteria Catholics”, and announced a while back that John F Kennedy’s famous defense of the separation of church and state made him sick to his stomach. In the wake of Laudato Si, care to guess who’s elbowing his way to the head of the cafeteria line? Yes, that would be Santorum, who’s been insisting since the encyclical came out that the Pope is wrong and American Catholics shouldn’t be obliged to listen to him.

What makes all the yelling about Laudato Si a source of wry amusement to me is that it’s not actually a radical document at all. It’s a statement of plain common sense. It should have been obvious all along that treating the air as a gaseous sewer was a really dumb idea, and in particular, that dumping billions upon billions of tons of infrared-reflecting gases into the atmosphere would change its capacity for heat retention in unwelcome ways. It should have been just as obvious that all the other ways we maltreat the only habitable planet we’ve got were guaranteed to end just as badly. That this wasn’t obvious – that huge numbers of people find it impossible to realize that you can only wet your bed so many times before you have to sleep in a damp spot – deserves much more attention than it’s received so far.

It’s really a curious blindness, when you think about it. Since our distant ancestors climbed unsteadily down from the trees of late Pliocene Africa, the capacity to anticipate threats and do something about them has been central to the success of our species. A rustle in the grass might indicate the approach of a leopard, a series of unusually dry seasons might turn the local water hole into undrinkable mud: those of our ancestors who paid attention to such things, and took constructive action in response to them, were more likely to survive and leave offspring than those who shrugged and went on with business as usual. That’s why traditional societies around the world are hedged about with a dizzying assortment of taboos and customs meant to guard against every conceivable source of danger.

Somehow, though, we got from that to our present situation, where substantial majorities across the world’s industrial nations seem unable to notice that something bad can actually happen to them, where thoughtstoppers of the “I’m sure they’ll think of something” variety take the place of thinking about the future, and where, when something bad does happen to someone, the immediate response is to find some way to blame the victim for what happened, so that everyone else can continue to believe that the same thing can’t happen to them. A world where Laudato Si is controversial, not to mention necessary, is a world that’s become dangerously detached from the most basic requirements of collective survival.

For quite some time now, I’ve been wondering just what lies behind the bizarre paralogic with which most people these days turn blank and uncomprehending eyes on their onrushing fate. The process of writing last week’s blog post on the astonishing stupidity of US foreign policy, though, seems to have helped me push through to clarity on the subject. I may be wrong, but I think I’ve figured it out.

Let’s begin with the issue at the center of last week’s post, the really remarkable cluelessness with which US policy toward Russia and China has convinced both nations they have nothing to gain from cooperating with a US-led global order, and are better off allying with each other and opposing the US instead. US politicians and diplomats made that happen, and the way they did it was set out in detail in a recent and thoughtful article {1} by Paul R Pillar in the online edition of The National Interest.

Pillar’s article pointed out that the United States has evolved a uniquely counterproductive notion of how negotiation works. Elsewhere on the planet, people understand that when you negotiate, you’re seeking a compromise where you get whatever you most need out of the situation, while the other side gets enough of its own agenda met to be willing to cooperate. To the US, by contrast, negotiation means that the other side complies with US demands, and that’s the end of it. The idea that other countries might have their own interests, and might expect to receive some substantive benefit in exchange for cooperation with the US, has apparently never entered the heads of official Washington – and the absence of that idea has resulted in the cascading failures of US foreign policy in recent years.

It’s only fair to point out that the United States isn’t the only practitioner of this kind of self-defeating behavior. A first-rate example has been unfolding in Europe in recent months – yes, that would be the ongoing non-negotiations between the Greek government and the so-called troika, the coalition of unelected bureaucrats who are trying to force Greece to keep pursuing a failed economic policy at all costs. The attitude of the troika is simple: the only outcome they’re willing to accept is capitulation on the part of the Greek government, and they’re not willing to give anything in return. Every time the Greek government has tried to point out to the troika that negotiation usually involves some degree of give and take, the bureaucrats simply give them a blank look and reiterate their previous demands.

That attitude has had drastic political consequences. It’s already convinced Greeks to elect a radical leftist government in place of the compliant centrists who ruled the country in the recent past. If the leftists fold, the neofascist Golden Dawn party is waiting in the wings. The problem with the troika’s stance is simple: the policies they’re insisting that Greece must accept have never – not once in the history of market economies – produced anything but mass impoverishment and national bankruptcy. The Greeks, among many other people, know this; they know that Greece will not return to prosperity until it defaults on its foreign debts {2} the way Russia did in 1998, and scores of other countries have done as well.

If the troika won’t settle for a negotiated debt-relief program, and the current Greek government won’t default, the Greeks will elect someone else who will, no matter who that someone else happens to be; it’s that, after all, or continue along a course that’s already caused the Greek economy to lose a quarter of its precrisis GDP, and shows no sign of stopping anywhere this side of failed-state status. That this could quite easily hand Greece over to a fascist despot is just one of the potential problems with the troika’s strategy. It’s astonishing that so few people in Europe seem to be able to remember what happened the last time an international political establishment committed itself to the preservation of a failed economic orthodoxy no matter what; those of my readers who don’t know what I’m talking about may want to pick up any good book on the rise of fascism in Europe between the wars.

Let’s step back from specifics, though, and notice the thinking that underlies the dysfunctional behavior in Washington and Brussels alike. In both cases, the people who think they’re in charge have lost track of the fact that Russia, China, and Greece have needs, concerns, and interests of their own, and aren’t simply dolls that the US or EU can pose at will. These other nations can, perhaps, be bullied by threats over the short term, but that’s a strategy with a short shelf life.  Successful diplomacy depends on giving the other guy reasons to want to cooperate with you, while demanding cooperation at gunpoint guarantees that the other guy is going to look for ways to shoot back.

The same sort of thinking in a different context underlies the brutal stupidity of American drone attacks in the Middle East. Some wag in the media pointed out a while back that the US went to war against an enemy 5,000 strong, we’ve killed 10,000 of them, and now there are only 20,000 left. That’s a good summary of the situation; the US drone campaign has been a total failure by every objective measure, having worked out consistently to the benefit of the Muslim extremist groups against which it’s aimed, and yet nobody in official Washington seems capable of noticing this fact.

It’s hard to miss the conclusion, in fact, that the Obama administration thinks that in pursuing its drone-strike program, it’s playing some kind of video game, which the United States can win if it can rack up enough points. Notice the way that every report that a drone has taken out some al-Qaeda leader gets hailed in the media: hey, we nailed a commander, doesn’t that boost our score by five hundred? In the real world, meanwhile the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians by US drone strikes has become a core factor convincing Muslims around the world that the United States is just as evil as the jihadis claim, and thus sending young men by the thousands to join the jihadi ranks. Has anyone in the Obama administration caught on to this straightforward arithmetic of failure? Surely you jest.

For that matter, I wonder how many of my readers recall the much-ballyhooed “surge” in Afghanistan several years back. The “surge” was discussed at great length in the US media before it was enacted on Afghan soil; talking heads of every persuasion babbled learnedly about how many troops would be sent, how long they’d stay, and so on. It apparently never occurred to anybody in the Pentagon or the White House that the Taliban could visit websites and read newspapers, and get a pretty good idea of what the US forces in Afghanistan were about to do. That’s exactly what happened, too; the Taliban simply hunkered down for the duration, and popped back up the moment the extra troops went home.

Both these examples of US military failure are driven by the same problem discussed earlier in the context of diplomacy: an inability to recognize that the other side will reliably respond to US actions in ways that further its own agenda, rather than playing along with the US. More broadly, it’s the same failure of thought that leads so many people to assume that the biosphere is somehow obligated to give us all the resources we want and take all the abuse we choose to dump on it, without ever responding in ways that might inconvenience us.

We can sum up all these forms of acquired stupidity in a single sentence: most people these days seem to have lost the ability to grasp that the other side can learn.

The entire concept of learning has been so poisoned by certain bad habits of contemporary thought that it’s probably necessary to pause here. Learning, in particular, isn’t the same thing as rote imitation. If you memorize a set of phrases in a foreign language, for example, that doesn’t mean you’ve learned that language. To learn the language means to grasp the underlying structure, so that you can come up with your own phrases and say whatever you want, not just what you’ve been taught to say.

In the same way, if you memorize a set of disconnected factoids about history, you haven’t learned history. This is something of a loaded topic right now in the US, because recent “reforms” in the American  public school system have replaced learning with rote memorization of disconnected factoids that are then regurgitated for multiple choice tests. This way of handling education penalizes those children who figure out how to learn, since they might well come up with answers that differ from the ones the test expects. That’s one of many ways that US education these days actively discourages learning – but that’s a subject for another post.

To learn is to grasp the underlying structure of a given subject of knowledge, so that the learner can come up with original responses to it. That’s what Russia and China did; they grasped the underlying structure of US diplomacy, figured out that they had nothing to gain by cooperating with that structure, and came up with a creative response, which was to ally against the United States. That’s what Greece is doing, too.  Bit by bit, the Greeks seem to be figuring out the underlying structure of troika policy, which amounts to the systematic looting of southern Europe for the benefit of Germany and a few of its allies, and are trying to come up with a response that doesn’t simply amount to unilateral submission.

That’s also what the jihadis and the Taliban are doing in the face of US military activity. If life hands you lemons, as the saying goes, make lemonade; if the US hands you drone strikes that routinely slaughter noncombatants, you can make very successful propaganda out of it – and if the US hands you a surge, you roll your eyes, hole up in your mountain fastnesses, and wait for the Americans to get bored or distracted, knowing that this won’t take long. That’s how learning works, but that’s something that US planners seem congenitally unable to take into account.

The same analysis, interestingly enough, makes just as much sense when applied to nonhuman nature. As Ervin Laszlo pointed out a long time ago in Introduction to Systems Philosophy (1972), any sufficiently complex system behaves in ways that approximate intelligence. Consider the way that bacteria respond to antibiotics. Individually, bacteria are as dumb as politicians, but their behavior on the species level shows an eerie similarity to learning; faced with antibiotics, a species of bacteria “tries out” different biochemical approaches until it finds one that sidesteps the antibiotic. In the same way, insects and weeds “try out” different responses to pesticides and herbicides until they find whatever allows them to munch on crops or flourish in the fields no matter how much poison the farmer sprays on them.

We can even apply the same logic to the environmental crisis as a whole. Complex systems tend to seek equilibrium, and will respond to anything that pushes them away from equilibrium by pushing back the other way. Any field biologist can show you plenty of examples: if conditions allow more rabbits to be born in a season, for instance, the population of hawks and foxes rises accordingly, reducing the rabbit surplus to a level the ecosystem can support. As humanity has put increasing pressure on the biosphere, the biosphere has begun to push back with increasing force, in an increasing number of ways; is it too much to think of this as a kind of learning, in which the biosphere “tries out” different ways to balance out the abusive behavior of humanity, until it finds one or more that work?

Now of course it’s long been a commonplace of modern thought that natural systems can’t possibly learn. The notion that nature is static, timeless, and unresponsive, a passive stage on which human beings alone play active roles, is welded into modern thought, unshaken even by the realities of biological evolution or the rising tide of evidence that natural systems are in fact quite able to adapt their way around human meddling. There’s a long and complex history to the notion of passive nature, but that’s a subject for another day; what interests me just now is that since 1990 or so, the governing classes of the United States, and some other Western nations as well, have applied the same frankly delusional logic to everything in the world other than themselves.

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality”, neoconservative guru Karl Rove is credited as saying to reporter Ron Suskind. “We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do”. That seems to be the thinking that governs the US government these days, on both sides of the supposed partisan divide. Obama says we’re in a recovery, and if the economy fails to act accordingly, why, rooms full of industrious flacks churn out elaborately fudged statistics to erase that unwelcome reality. That history’s self-proclaimed actors might turn out to be just one more set of flotsam awash on history’s vast tides has never entered their darkest dream.

Let’s step back from specifics again, though. What’s the source of this bizarre paralogic – the delusion that leads politicians to think that they create reality, and that everyone and everything else can only fill the roles they’ve been assigned by history’s actors?  I think I know. I think it comes from a simple but remarkably powerful fact, which is that the people in question, along with most people in the privileged classes of the industrial world, spend most of their time, from childhood on, dealing with machines.

We can define a machine as a subset of the universe that’s been deprived of the capacity to learn. The whole point of building a machine is that it does what you want, when you want it, and nothing else. Flip the switch on, and it turns on and goes through whatever rigidly defined set of behaviors it’s been designed to do; flip the switch off, and it stops. It may be fitted with controls, so you can manipulate its behavior in various tightly limited ways; nowadays, especially when computer technology is involved, the set of behaviors assigned to it may be complex enough that an outside observer may be fooled into thinking that there’s learning going on. There’s no inner life behind the facade {3}, though.  It can’t learn, and to the extent that it pretends to learn, what happens is the product of the sort of rote memorization described above as the antithesis of learning.

A machine that learned would be capable of making its own decisions and coming up with a creative response to your actions – and that’s the opposite of what machines are meant to do, because that response might well involve frustrating your intentions so the machine can get what it wants instead. That’s why the trope of machines going to war against human beings has so large a presence in popular culture: it’s exactly because we expect machines not to act like people, not to pursue their own needs and interests, that the thought of machines acting the way we do gets so reliable a frisson of horror.

The habit of thought that treats the rest of the cosmos as a collection of machines, existing only to fulfill whatever purpose they might be assigned by their operators, is another matter entirely. Its origins can be traced back to the dawning of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century, when a handful of thinkers first began to suggest that the universe might not be a vast organism – as everybody in the western world had presupposed for millennia before then – but might instead be a vast machine. It’s indicative that one immediate and popular response to this idea was to insist that other living things were simply “meat machines” who didn’t actually suffer pain under the vivisector’s knife, but had been designed by God to imitate sounds of pain in order to inspire feelings of pity in human beings.

The delusion of control – the conviction, apparently immune to correction by mere facts, that the world is a machine incapable of doing anything but the things we want it to do – pervades contemporary life in the world’s industrial societies. People in those societies spend so much more time dealing with machines than they do interacting with other people and other living things without a machine interface getting in the way, that it’s no wonder that this delusion is so widespread. As long as it retains its grip, though, we can expect the industrial world, and especially its privileged classes, to stumble onward from one preventable disaster to another. That’s the inner secret of the delusion of control, after all: those who insist on seeing the world in mechanical terms end up behaving mechanically themselves. Those who deny all other things the ability to learn lose the ability to learn from their own mistakes, and lurch robotically onward along a trajectory that leads straight to the scrapheap of the future.


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {4} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.






Categories: Uncategorized

Update to US War Manual …

… Makes it Easier to Defend Killing Journalists

Washington’s Blog (June 24 2015)

The US has always been a deadly force for journalists. The US invasion of Iraq launched in 2003, for example, as Al Jazeera reports {1}, is the single “deadliest war for journalists” ever waged: “More journalists were killed during the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq than in any war in history”.

Now, as US {2} and EU {3} officials and propagandists regularly denounce the journalism of outlets they don’t like (that is, ones that debunk Western propaganda), and the US positions tanks, artillery {4}, trainers {5}, and other equipment and hostile forces on Russia’s border, the US is further muddying its official definition of “journalist”.

Under the Bush Junior regime, a phrase with no occurrence or standing in law was invented as an “excuse” to illegally violate the Geneva Convention and use outlawed treatment, such as execution, torture, military instead of civilian courts, and indefinite imprisonment, on whomever the US wanted, including journalists {6}. That phrase was “unlawful combatant”. (The perpetrators of crimes “excused” by the phrase are all being protected by Obama.)

Under the Obama regime, the made up phrase is being replaced by the Pentagon with a new one that is even broader and more vague: “unprivileged belligerent”. This is different from the previous term in that it does not specify any relation to law, but rather to a notion of “privilege”. Likewise, it conveys no direct relation to combat, but rather simply to “belligerence”.

Obama is already infamous for creating false definitions for words and terms to cover major crimes, such as executions of thousands of suspects and {7, 8, 9, 10}.

And the new war-conduct manual directly links the new vague and highly exploitable phrase, “unprivileged belligerent”, to journalists, stating:

In general, journalists are civilians. However, journalists may be members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents.

A Telesur News analyst notes {11} that “The classification of journalists as ‘unprivileged belligerents’ is leading experts to conclude that the US Department of Defense has given the green light for soldiers to kill journalists”. The classification could also be used to justify the continuation and/or extension of other types of illegal treatment of journalists, such as torture or indefinite imprisonment, which the US practices.

In response, the Pentagon assured media that this was not the case (what else would it say?).

Obama is known as particularly hostile towards informational awareness and the press, having persecuted more whistle-blowers than all previous presidents combined {12}, and having carried out other actions such as classifying journalists as terrorists {13}, having journalists imprisoned without trial {14}, and aiding armed groups, such as the post-coup regime in Kiev, as they purge and murder journalists en masse {15}.

While the new manual does not necessarily represent the stance of the US government as a whole, it applies to the armed wings and could be cited by anyone, as Telesur notes, including foreign actors, as justification for continued crimes.

Also see: Award-winning Serbian director Emir Kusturica predicts that if Washington starts a hot war with Russia, RT, one of the world’s most popular news outlets, will be among the US’s first targets {16}. In the late ’90s, US forces planted and detonated explosives in Serbian state media buildings {17}.



















Categories: Uncategorized

New US Military Strategy

‘Russia, China – Threat to Unipolar Domination Fantasy’ / Op-Edge (July 02 2015)

The Pentagon’s new military strategy proposes that Russia is a major US adversary, that there might be a war between the two countries, and that the US is losing its military technology supremacy, says Brian Becker from the anti-war Answer Coalition.

The Pentagon has released a new National Military Strategy {1} listing of the greatest threats to the US. It includes states such as Russia, Iran and North Korea, and groups, particularly ‘violent extremist organizations’ (VEO) such as Islamic State and the Taliban.

RT: The United States does have a track record of entering conflicts without international approval. So judging by this new strategy should we expect more of the same?

Brian Becker: I think the new strategy is emblematic of what is going on in the past and as you’ve mentioned the US, when it can, gets UN or international acquiescence for what is essentially a US military operation, but if that support is lacking as it was in Iraq or in the Libya campaign the US just does it anyway. Certainly you can see that in Syria. So what we have is a situation – if you step back – the US violates international law routinely; it says always that it’s the great upholder of international law. But I think when you look at this new report what’s most outstanding is that compared to 2011 (it’s a quadrennial report) where Russia was barely mentioned, now the US government postulates (1) that Russia is a major adversary, (2) that there is a possibility of a major interstate war with a major power meaning Russia and (3) the US is losing its supremacy in military technology, signaling as it did in the 1950s a new arms race. And I think that’s what this report shows.

RT: The document concedes that “some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode” – how do you think the US will try to claw back this advantage?

BB: I don’t think there is a loss of advantage; I think that this is usually a political signal largely for domestic public consumption in the US. Americans are being told that there is no money for hospitals, schools and many other vitally needed social programs, but suddenly we will have a clarion call that the US must catch up and must not let its adversaries –  Russia or China –  become superior to the US. This is precisely what triggered the advanced arms race in the 1950s. So I think the language is political, it shows the US is a defensive party, it’s a possible victim of aggression, it must not allow itself to become the victim of aggression and it can only deter it by adding more money to the arms budget. It signals that. But also we see a new generation of nuclear weapons being built and a new deployment strategy of military forces especially in the Arctic and that’s the challenge [to] Russia and to a lesser degree China and I think this [report] shows where this is really moving.

RT: Why are Russia and China mentioned when the Middle East is in chaos?

BB: The US realizes that its dream of a unipolar world, the dream that started to become an operational doctrine for the US following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, that that dream has turned into an impossible goal, that in fact Russia is back on its feet, it’s asserting its own interests. China is growing, it’s trying to grow peacefully and rise peacefully and become a medium range power. But the US sees that Russia, China, Iran and other countries in the world including South Africa, Brazil and India are unwilling to be just victims of the US hegemony, that they are asserting the wrong national interests, and so I think the US sees that now as a threat to its fantasy of unipolar domination following the collapse of the USSR.

RT: The US apparently wants to “support China’s rise” but also resist Beijing’s efforts to expand its regional control. Aren’t these two goals incompatible?

BB: They are not compatible. In fact if you look at what the US is doing, not what it says in this sort of carefully worded military doctrine, the pivot towards Asia is a pivot of containment. The new military strategy which is to take all the non-Chinese republics and nations of the Asia-Pacific region and forge them into a US-led military alliance can’t be perceived in China as anything but a great threat to Chinese national interest in China’s own backyard, in its own territory, in the East China Sea and South China Sea and right up to the Chinese border. So deeds here say a great deal more than words. I think it’s carefully worded, but clearly the Chinese know that the pivot towards Asia is a pivot against China and not with China.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Read more {2}




Categories: Uncategorized

America’s Got War

Poverty, Drugs, Afghanistan, Iraq, Terror, or How to Make War on Everything

by William J Astore

TomDispatch (une 28 2015)

War on drugs. War on poverty. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. War on terror. The biggest mistake in American policy, foreign and domestic, is looking at everything as war. When a war mentality takes over, it chooses the weapons and tactics for you.  It limits the terms of debate before you even begin. It answers questions before they’re even asked.

When you define something as war, it dictates the use of the military (or militarized police forces, prisons, and other forms of coercion) as the primary instruments of policy.  Violence becomes the means of decision, total victory the goal.  Anyone who suggests otherwise is labeled a dreamer, an appeaser, or even a traitor.

War, in short, is the great simplifier – and it may even work when you’re fighting existential military threats (as in World War Two).  But it doesn’t work when you define every problem as an existential one and then make war on complex societal problems (crime, poverty, drugs) or ideas and religious beliefs (radical Islam).

America’s Omnipresent War Ethos

Consider the Afghan War – not the one in the 1980s when Washington funneled money and arms to the fundamentalist Mujahideen to inflict on the Soviet Union a Vietnam-style quagmire, but the more recent phase that began soon after 9/11.  Keep in mind that what launched it were those attacks by nineteen hijackers (fifteen of whom were Saudi nationals) representing a modest-sized organization lacking the slightest resemblance to a nation, state, or government.  There was as well, of course, the fundamentalist Taliban movement that then controlled much of Afghanistan. It had emerged from the rubble of our previous war there and had provided support and sanctuary, though somewhat grudgingly, to Osama bin Laden.

With images of those collapsing towers in New York burned into America’s collective consciousness, the idea that the US might respond with an international “policing” action aimed at taking criminals off the global streets was instantly banished from discussion.  What arose in the minds of the Bush administration’s top officials instead was vengeance via a full-scale, global, and generational “war on terror”.  Its thoroughly militarized goal was not just to eliminate al-Qaeda but any terror outfits anywhere on Earth, even as the US embarked on a full-fledged experiment in violent nation building in Afghanistan.  More than thirteen dismal years later, that Afghan War-cum-experiment is ongoing at staggering expense and with the most disappointing of results.

While the mindset of global war was gaining traction, the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq.  The most technologically advanced military on Earth, one that the president termed “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”, was set loose to bring “democracy” and a Pax Americana to the Middle East.  Washington had, of course, been in conflict with Iraq since Operation Desert Storm in 1990 & 1991, but what began as the equivalent of a military coup (aka a “decapitation” operation) by an outside power, an attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein and eliminate his armed forces and party, soon morphed into a prolonged occupation and another political and social experiment in violent nation-building.  As with Afghanistan, the Iraq experiment with war is still ongoing at enormous expense and with even more disastrous results.

Radical Islam has drawn strength from these American-led “wars”.  Indeed, radical Islamists cite the intrusive and apparently permanent presence of American troops and bases in the Middle East and Central Asia as confirmation of their belief that US forces are leading a crusade against them – and by extension against Islam itself.  (And in a revealing slip of the tongue, President Bush did indeed once call his war on terror a “crusade”.)  Considered in these terms, such a war is by definition a losing effort because each “success” only strengthens the narrative of Washington’s enemies.  There’s simply no way to win such a war except by stopping it. Yet that course of action is never on the proverbial “table” of options from which officials in Washington are said to choose their strategies.  To do so, in the context of war thinking, would mean to admit defeat (even though true defeat arrived the very instant the problem was first defined as war).

Our leaders persist in such violent folly at least in part because they fear the admission of defeat above all else.  After all, nothing is more pejorative in American politics or culture than to be labeled a loser in war, someone who “cuts and runs”.

In the 1960s, despite his own serious misgivings about the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, President Lyndon B Johnson set the gold standard in his determination not to be the first American president to lose a war, especially in a “damn little pissant country” like Vietnam. So he persisted – and the conflict turned him into a loser anyway and destroyed his presidency.

Even as he waged war, as historian George Herring has noted, LBJ did not want to be known as a “war president”.  Two generations later, another Texan, George W Bush, grasped the “war president” moniker with genuine enthusiasm.  He, too, vowed he would win his war when things started to go sour.  Staring down a growing insurgency in Iraq in the summer of 2003, Bush did not shy from the challenge.  “Bring ’em on”, he said in what was supposed to be a Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry-style moment.  Now, Washington is sending troops back into Iraq for the third time to engage an even more intractable insurgency, the Islamic State’s radical version of Islam, a movement originally fed and bred partly in Camp Bucca, an American military prison in Iraq.

And just to set the record straight, President Obama, too, accepted the preeminence of war in American policy in his 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo.  There, he offered a stirring defense of America’s role and record as “the world’s sole military superpower”:

Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

It was a moment that defined the Obama presidency as being remarkably in tune with America’s already omnipresent war ethos.  It was the very negation of “hope” and “change” and the beginning of Obama’s transition, via the CIA’s drone assassination program, into the role of assassin-in-chief.

Everything is Jihad

Recent American leaders have something in common with their extremist Islamic counterparts: all of them define everything, implicitly or explicitly, as a jihad, a crusade, a holy war.  But the violent methods used in pursuit of various jihads, whether Islamic or secular, simply serve to perpetuate and often aggravate the struggle.

Think of America’s numerous so-called wars and consider if there’s been any measurable progress made in any of them.  Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in 1964.  Fifty-one years later, there are still startling numbers of desperately poor people and, in this century, the gap between the poorest many and richest few has widened to a chasm.  (Since the days of President Ronald Reagan, in fact, one might speak of a war on the poor, not poverty.)  Drugs?  Forty-four years after President Richard Nixon proclaimed the war on drugs, there are still millions in jail, billions being spent, and drugs galore on the streets of American cities.  Terror?  Thirteen years and counting after that “war” was launched, terror groups, minor in numbers and reach in 2001, have proliferated wildly and there is now something like a “caliphate” – once an Osama bin Laden fantasy – in the Middle East: ISIS in power in parts of Iraq and Syria, al-Qaeda on the rise in Yemen, Libya destabilized and divvied up among ever more extreme outfits, innocents still dying in US drone strikes.  Afghanistan?  The opium trade has rebounded big time, the Taliban is resurgent, and the region is being destabilized. Iraq? A cauldron of ethnic and religious rivalries and hatreds, with more US weaponry on the way to fuel the killing, in a country that functionally no longer exists.  The only certainty in most of these American “wars” is their violent continuation, even when their original missions lie in tatters.

The very methods the US employs and the mentality its leaders adopt ensure their perpetuation.  Why?  Because drug addiction and abuse can’t be conquered by waging a war.  Neither can poverty.  Neither can terror.  Neither can radical Islam be defeated through armed nation building.  Indeed, radical Islam thrives on the very war conditions that Washington helps to create.  By fighting in the now familiar fashion, you merely fan its flames and ensure its propagation.

It’s the mindset that matters.  In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, places that for most Americans exist only within a “war” matrix, the US invades or attacks, gets stuck, throws resources at the problem indiscriminately, and “makes a desert and calls it ‘peace'” (to quote the Roman historian Tacitus).  After which our leaders act surprised as hell when the problem only grows.

Sadly, the song remains monotonously the same in America: more wars, made worse by impatience for results driven by each new election cycle.  It’s a formula in which the country is eternally fated to lose.

Two Curious Features of America’s New Wars

Historically, when a nation declares war, it does so to mobilize national will, as the US clearly did in World War Two.  Accompanying our wars of recent decades, however, has been an urge not to mobilize the people, but demobilize them – even as the “experts” are empowered to fight and taxpayer funds pour into the national security state and the military-industrial complex to keep the conflicts going.

Recent wars, whether on drugs or in the Greater Middle East, are never presented as a challenge we the people can address and solve together, but as something only those who allegedly possess the expertise and credentials – and the weapons – can figure out or fight.  George W Bush summed up this mindset in classic fashion after 9/11 when he urged Americans to go shopping and visit Disney World and leave the fighting to the pros. War, in short, has become yet another form of social control.  Have a gun or a badge of some sort and you can speak forcefully and be listened to; otherwise, you have no say.

In addition, what makes America’s new wars unique to our moment is that they never have a discernible endpoint. For what constitutes “victory” over drugs or terror?  Once started, these wars by definition are hard to stop.

Cynics may claim there’s nothing new here.  Hasn’t America always been at war?  Haven’t we always been a violent people?  There’s truth in this.  But at least Americans of my grandfather’s and father’s generation didn’t define themselves by war.

What America needs right now is a twelve-step program to break the urge to feed further our national addiction to war.  The starting point for Washington – and Americans more generally – would obviously have to be taking that first step and confessing that we have a problem we alone can’t solve.

Hi, I’m Uncle Sam and I’m a war-oholic.  Yes, I’m addicted to war.  I know it’s destructive to myself and others.  But I can’t stop – not without your help.

True change often begins with confession.  With humility.  With an admission that not everything is within one’s control, no matter how violently one rages; indeed, that violent rage only aggravates the problem.  America needs to make such a confession.  Only then can we begin to wean ourselves off war.


William J Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular.  He edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 William J Astore

(c) 2015 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

How to Save the US-China Relationship

2015/07/04 1 comment

by Evan Osnos

The New Yorker (June 24 2015)

The name conjures an image of such stately dullness that it would drive an adman to despair: the Seventh Round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. But Chinese and American officials now meeting at the State Department, for two days of talks that began on Tuesday, have the task of preventing the world’s most important relationship from drifting to what both sides increasingly acknowledge is a dangerous level of distrust.

More than four decades after Nixon met Mao, the relationship between the US and China has reached a pivotal moment. To date, even as China has become more powerful and present in our lives, Americans have generally found it to be an unsatisfying “enemy”. For most of the past decade, the number of Americans who reported having a favorable view of China hovered around fifty per cent, according to the Pew Research Center. But, in the past three years, the favorable number has declined to thirty-five per cent, and the unfavorable has risen to fifty-four per cent. In China, favorable views of the US are at a similar level, around fifty per cent – neither firmly in favor nor opposed.

Viewed one way, relations between the world’s two most powerful countries, the US and China, should be a rare point of calm in a world aflame, from Syria to Ukraine. The Chinese and American economies have never been more interdependent: in the past six years, rich Chinese companies and plutocrats have increased direct investment in the US fivefold, spurring the creation of new jobs and surpassing, for the first time, the amount that Americans invest in China. Moreover, one of Capitol Hill’s longtime concerns – that China was suppressing the value of its currency in order to make its exports cheaper than its rivals’ – has been resolved; the yuan is no longer undervalued, according to the International Monetary Fund. (The Chinese government has allowed it to appreciate, in order to curb inflation at home and encourage the use of the yuan as a global currency.) Even the old fears about China holding a mountain of US debt have eroded, as the US Federal Reserve has amassed a larger share of US treasuries and China has reduced its holdings. Earlier this year, Japan finally surpassed China as the largest foreign holder of US debt.

And yet phlegmatic specialists on both sides talk of a pall descending – a strategic anxiety shaped by the concern that the US and China are talking past one another. “The tipping point is near”, David Lampton, a China scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, said last month. “Our respective fears are nearer to outweighing our hopes than at any time since normalization”, he said. To avoid confrontation, he said, Washington must “rethink its objective of primacy and China must recalibrate its own sense of strength”. For their part, Chinese officials and strategists are increasingly agitated about the Obama Administration’s “rebalancing” to Asia. After an American reconnaissance plane flew near a man-made island under construction by a Chinese crew, Fu Ying, China’s Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, wrote that, “US behavior on this matter is like a flamboyant eagle which has flown into a china shop”.

The irritants are clear, beginning with cyber-espionage. Both sides engage in it, but the reach and flagrancy of China’s efforts have turned it into a political issue. Earlier this month, US officials said they suspected (but have not formally accused) Chinese hackers of engineering one of the largest thefts of data in government history. In that breach, security clearances and personal information related to as many as eighteen million current, former, and prospective federal employees were taken from the Office of Personnel Management. (China denies any involvement.) American officials acknowledge that the data was embarrassingly underprotected, but they also worry that a foreign government is accumulating personal information that could be used to cause havoc in the event of a future conflict. It is prime fodder for the upcoming campaign season, when we should expect American candidates to replace old talk of China “controlling our debt” with warnings of China “controlling our data”.

Other once-marginal issues have snapped into focus for the American public. For years, China has asserted a claim to a larger share of the South China Sea, but in April that esoteric argument became front-page news: satellite images revealed what became known as a Chinese “island factory”, a network of ships and builders constructing two thousand acres of man-made islands out of previously uninhabited reefs and atolls. Though the islands have little immediate military value, they have galvanized those in Washington who want the US to maintain its role policing the waterway, which is central to global commerce. Similarly, concerns about protecting human rights used to be the province of advocacy organizations, but recently a proposed law on foreign NGOs has drawn complaints from traditionally stalwart supporters of engagement, including Western foundations, universities, and business groups. They have expressed serious concerns that the law could, for instance, impair exchanges as routine as volunteer medical visits and American professors lecturing at Chinese universities. (A major American NGO said it is facing “a multi-layered death by bureaucracy”.)

The United States has also done its share to contribute to the distrust. Last year, Beijing launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an alternative to the World Bank and other US-dominated international financial institutions. Washington urged its allies to shun the bank until its rules became clearer, but Britain and other countries joined anyway – a miserable result that left the US looking weak and likely strengthened the position of Chinese hawks. They push the argument, described in a Communist Party document last year, that the US has five objectives: to isolate, contain, diminish, and divide China, and to sabotage its political leadership.

At its essence, the tension is not about policy disagreements; it is about a historic change. Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, has called on the US to embrace China in what he calls a “new type of major power relationship”. To Kenneth Lieberthal, a China specialist at the Brookings Institution, that phrase conveys a “relationship between equals, each of whom respects the fact that the other has its own system and interests”. But the US has been reluctant to adopt a slogan intended to alter the status quo. Lieberthal told me,

The US is much more transactional: Do we treat you as an equal? We don’t bully you, and we want to negotiate agreements on both substance and rules of engagement. And China is thinking, Wait a minute, no, we’re talking about respecting us. We’re not trying to overthrow the American system of governance, so why is it that you pay what we do so little respect?

Stopping the erosion of goodwill will rest on unglamorous talks like those going on at the State Department now – the final major negotiations before Xi makes his first state visit to Washington in September. The US and China have well-known areas of common interest: a treaty to lower investment hurdles to each other’s economies, the Iran nuclear talks, forging peace in Afghanistan, and, most of all, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. But those are not enough. Insuring peace will mean giving something up. Lampton, of Johns Hopkins, argues that each side can afford to make a significant compromise: the US must acknowledge China’s “legitimate aspirations for a voice in the international system”, and Beijing should take some “maritime disputes off the table”.

The US must differentiate between controversial assertions of power, like those in the South China Sea, and fair reflections of China’s growing contribution to the world, such as the new banks. Likewise, China cannot afford to pretend that the world is unruffled by the profound, if inevitable, change it has introduced in the international order. For both parties, a willful focus on the strengths risks underplaying the weaknesses in their respective positions.

Even after four decades, American officials are sometimes startled when Chinese counterparts pose basic questions about American governance. A senior official told me recently, “That clearly expresses a kind of curiosity, along the lines of, ‘How does it really work here?’ Which you can read as a heartening curiosity about the other guy, and what that means for the possibility of interactions down the road”. But, he added, “It’s also frightening, given the possibility of conflict”. We are entering a more dangerous era, in which neither side can afford to misread the other.

Links: The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.

Evan Osnos joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008, and covers politics and foreign affairs.

Categories: Uncategorized

Is Fukushima Getting Worse?

Straight Disaster

by Robert Hunziker

CounterPunch (June 29 2015)

The Fukushima multiple nuclear disasters continue spewing out hot stuff like there’s no tomorrow. By all appearances, it is getting worse, out-of-control nuclear meltdowns.

On June 19th Tepco reported the highest-ever readings of Strontium-90 outside of the Fukushima plant ports. The readings were 1,000,000 becquerels per cubic meter of Strontium-90 at two locations near water intakes for Reactors 3 and 4. Tepco has not been able to explain the spike up in readings. The prior highest readings were 700,000 becquerels per cubic meter. {1}

Strontium-90 is a byproduct of nuclear reactors or during the explosion of nuclear weapons, for example, it is considered the most dangerous component of radioactive fallout from a nuclear weapon (Source: HyperPhysics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Georgia State University). It is a cancer-causing substance because it damages genetic material (DNA) in cells. Strontium-90 is not found in nature. It’s a byproduct of the nuclear world of today, for example, Strontium-90 was only recently discovered, as of August 2014, for the first time ever, by the Vermont Health Department in ground water at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station {2}. Coincidentally, Vermont Yankee, as of December 29 2014, is being shut down.

When a fission chain reaction of uranium-235 or plutonium-239 is active in a nuclear power station containment vessel, it produces a vast array of deadly radioactive isotopes. Strontium-90 is but one of those. So, somewhere in Fukushima Dai-ichi a lot of atoms are splitting like crazy (meanwhile Einstein e=mc2 turns over in his grave) and ergo, a lot of Strontium-90 pops out and hangs around for decades upon decades. This is not a small problem.

Which may be why Einstein famously said, “Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water”.

For example, a large amount of Strontium-90 erupted into the atmosphere from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion (1986), spread over the old Soviet Republics and parts of Europe. Thereby, Strontium-90, along with other radioactive isotopes, kills and maims people, a lot of people, to this day More on this later.

Farming in Fukushima

Because of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, farmers in the greater area have had a tough go of it. For example, on June 6 2013 Japanese farmers met with Tepco and government officials, including the official in charge of Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry {3}.

The thirteen-minute video of the farmers’ meeting with officials shows farmers testifying about contaminated food that,

We won’t eat ourselves, but we sell it … I know there is radiation in what we grow. I feel guilty about growing and selling them to consumers.

Well, sure enough, officials from New Taipei City’s Department of Health (Taipei, Taiwan), and other law-enforcement authorities, seized mislabeled products from Japan. It seems that “more than 283 Japanese food products imported from the radiation-stricken areas near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster were found to be relabeled as having come from other areas of Japan and sold to local customers” {4}.

Meanwhile, within a couple of months of the illicit underhanded devious mislabeling incident, “Taiwan Enforces Stricter Controls on Japanese Food Imports” {5}, as Taiwan draws a line in the sand for Japanese foodstuffs.

Not only that but on the heels of Taiwan’s discovery of the mislabeling gimmick, and only three months later, “Japan Asks China to Ease Food Import Restrictions Introduced After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster” {6}. Previously, China banned food imports from ten prefectures in Japan, including Miyagi, Nagano, and Fukushima. Now, this past week, Japanese authorities are asking China to remove the restrictions.

Japan would be wise to suggest China first consult with the United States because confidently, audaciously, imperturbably Secretary of State Hillary Clinton allegedly signed a secret pact with Japan within one month of the meltdown for the US to continue importing Japanese foodstuffs, no questions asked{7}.

Meantime, Chancellor Merkel (PhD, physics) ordered a shutdown of nuclear power plants throughout Germany, hmm.

Fukushima and Our Radioactive Ocean

According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Video- March 2015: “When Fukushima exploded, radioactive gases and particles escaped into the atmosphere. Most fell nearby on land and in the ocean. A smaller amount remained in the air, and within days, circled the globe … in the ocean close to Fukushima, levels of cesium-137 and 134, two of the most abundant radioactive materials released, peaked at more than 50,000,000 times above background levels.”

Nevertheless, according to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute: “Scientists who have modeled the plume predict that radioactivity along the West Coast of North America will increase, but will remain at levels that are not a threat to humans or marine life”.

To date, based upon actual testing of water and marine life in the Pacific Ocean by Woods Hole, radioactive levels along the North American West Coast remain low, not a threat to humans, not a threat to marine life, so far.

Fukushima and its Ocean Impact

According to Dr Ken Buesseler, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, March 11 2015, cesium uptake in the marine food web is diluted, for example, when Bluefin tuna swim across the Pacific, they lose, via excretion, about one-half of the cesium intake that is ingested in Japanese waters.

Expectantly, there are no commercial fisheries open in the Fukushima-affected areas of Japan. On a continual monitoring basis, no fishing is allowed in contaminated areas off the coastlines.

When contamination levels of fish in Japan are compared to fish along the coast of North America, the levels of radiation are relatively low in Canada and in the US. As a result, according to studies by Woods Hole, eating fish from the US Pacific region is okay.

Not only that, but rather than categorical acceptance of US government statements about safety from radiation in ocean currents, Dr Buesseler established a citizen’s network called “How Radioactive is Our Ocean?” where individuals contribute by voluntarily taking samples. Every sample from the West Coast had cesium-137, but the numbers are low and at levels harmless to humans, thus far.

But, on a cautionary note, Dr Buesseler is the first one to admit the situation requires constant monitoring.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s findings are not sufficient to dismiss health concerns for many reasons, among of which Fukushima is white hot with radioactivity, tenuously hanging by a thread, extremely vulnerable to another earthquake or even an internally generated disruption, who knows? It is totally out of control!

The California Coastal Commission issued a report that agrees with the low levels of Fukushima-derived radionuclides detected in air, drinking water, food, seawater, and marine life in California; however, “it should be noted that the long-term effects of low-level radiation in the environment remain incompletely understood …” {8}

The risk of long-term exposure to low-level radiation is unclear. Studies of radiotherapy patients and others indicate that there is a significant increase in cancer risk if lifetime exposure exceeds 100,000 microsieverts, according to the World Health Organization {9}. A person exposed daily to radiation at the high end of the levels now seen at Miyakoji [a village in Fukushima Prefecture] would reach that lifetime exposure level in fewer than 23 years. {10}

Current Status of Fukushima Nuclear Site, according to Dr Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who travels to Japan to measure radiation levels: The site continues to leak radioactive materials. In fact, release of Strontium-90 has grown by a factor of 100 when compared to 2011 levels. In other words, the situation is worsening. One hundred times anything is very big, especially when it is radiation.

Strontium-90 is acutely dangerous, and as it happens, highly radioactive water continuing to spew out of the Fukushima Dai-ichih facilities is seemingly an endless, relentless problem. The mere fact that Strontium-90 has increased by a factor of 100 since the disaster occurred is cause for decisive sober reflection. Furthermore, nobody on the face of the planet knows what is happening within the nuclear containment vessels, but apparently, it’s not good. More likely, it’s real bad.

According to Dr Helen Caldicott:

There is no way they can get to those cores, men die, robots get fried. Fukushima will never be solved. Meanwhile, people are still living in highly radioactive areas. {11}

Comparison analysis of Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011)

The world’s three most recent nuclear disasters are dissimilar in many respects. However, all three are subject to the same adage: “an accident is something that is not planned”. Thus, by definition, in the final analysis, the risk factor with nuclear power is indeterminate. Fukushima is proof.

Three Mile Island’s containment vessel, in large measure, fulfilled its purpose by containing most of the radiation so there was minimal radiation released. As such, Three Mile Island is the least harmful of the three incidents.

By way of contrast, Chernobyl did not have an adequate containment vessel and as a result, the explosion sent a gigantic plume of radioactive material blasting into the atmosphere, contaminating a seventy square kilometer (approximately thirty square mile) region, a “dead zone” that is permanently uninhabitable, forever unlivable.

To this day, tens of thousands of people affected by Chernobyl continue to suffer, and die, begging the question of whether Fukushima could be worse. After all, the incubation period for radiation in the body is five to forty years (Caldicott). As for example, it took five years for Chernobyl children to develop cancer (Caldicott), and Fukushima occurred in 2011.

“Fukushima is not Chernobyl, but it is potentially worse. It is a multiple reactor catastrophe happening within 150 miles of a metropolis of thirty million people”, claims John Vidal. Whereas, Chernobyl was only one reactor in an area of seven million people.

John Vidal, environmental editor of The Guardian newspaper (UK), traveled to Chernobyl:

Five years ago I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on 26 April 1986. I challenge chief scientist John Beddington and environmentalists like George Monbiot or any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, the scientists, the mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident. It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards; pitifully sick children in the homes; adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; fetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us every member of their family was sick. This was twenty years after the accident, but we heard of many unusual clusters of people with rare bone cancers … Villagers testified that ‘the Chernobyl necklace’ – thyroid cancer – was so common as to be unremarkable. {12]

There’s more:

Konstantin Tatuyan, one of the ‘liquidators’ who had helped clean up the plant [Chernobyl], told us that nearly all his colleagues had died or had cancers of one sort or another, but that no one had ever asked him for evidence. There was burning resentment at the way the UN, the industry and ill-informed pundits had played down the catastrophe. {12}

And still more yet. According to Alexy Yablokov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and adviser to President Gorbachev at the time of Chernobyl:

‘When you hear no immediate danger [from nuclear radiation] then you should run away as far and as fast as you can’ … At the end of 2006, Yablokov and two colleagues, factoring in the worldwide drop in births and increase in cancers seen after the accident, estimated in a study published in the annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that 985,000 people had so far died and the environment had been devastated. Their findings were met with almost complete silence by the World Health Organisation and the industry. {12}

The environment is devastated and almost one million dead. Is nuclear power worth the risks? Chancellor Merkel doesn’t seem to think so.

Of the three major nuclear disasters, Fukushima has its own uniqueness. The seriousness of the problem is immense, far-reaching, and daunting as its containment vessels are leaking radioactivity every day, every hour, every minute. How to stop it is not known, which is likely the definition of a nuclear meltdown!

The primary containment vessels at Fukushima may have prevented a Chernobyl-type massive release of radioactivity into the atmosphere in one enormous explosion. Even though, Fukushima did have four hydrogen explosions in the secondary containment structures, and as previously mentioned, according to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, “When Fukushima exploded … levels of cesium-137 and 134, two of the most abundant radioactive materials released, peaked at more than 50,000,000 times above background levels”.

But, more significant, troublesome, and menacing the primary containment vessels themselves are an afflictive problem of unknown dimension, unknown timing, unknown levels of destruction, as the nuclear meltdown left 100 tons of white-hot radioactive lava somewhere, but where?

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

– William Shakespeare, The Tempest.

Postscript: “Quietly into Disaster” is an alluring, exquisite, handsome full-length film that examines the consequences of nuclear fission: Produced by: Holger Strohm, Directed by Marcin El.





{4} Stephanie Chao, 283 Mislabeled Japanese Food Products Originated Near Fukushima, The China Post (March 25 2015)

{5} “Taiwan Enforces Stricter Controls on Japanese Food Imports” by J R Wu in Taipei and Ami Miyazaki in Tokyo, Reuters (May 15 2015)

{6} “Japan Asks China to Ease Food Import Restrictions Introduced After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster”, South China Morning Post (June 25 2015)

{7} Deborah Dupre, “Radiating Americans: Fukushima rain, Clinton’s Secret Food Pact, (August 14 2011)

{8} Report on the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Disaster and Radioactivity along the California Coast, California Coastal Commission (April 30 2014).


{10) Patrick J Kiger, Fukushima Return: At Nuclear Site, How Safe is Safe? National Geographic (April 02 2014)

{11} Helen Caldicott, Speech at Seattle Town Hall (September 28 2014)

{12} John Vidal, Nuclear’s Green Cheerleaders Forget Chernobyl at Our Peril, The Guardian (April 01 2011).


Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at

Categories: Uncategorized

Nuke Deal Inches Ahead

… as US-Iran Play Information War

by Pepe Escobar

Asia Times (June 30 2015)

So today is not D-Day. No landing in post-Wall of Mistrust territory. A nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 won’t be clinched today –  for a number of very complex reasons, way beyond the vicious media information war; not least finding the absolute, exact wording in every line of 85 pages of text.

It still amounts, for all the bluster and the dramatic turnarounds, to a question of trust. Rather, breaching the 36-year-plus Wall of Mistrust between Washington and Tehran.

There are breakthroughs, of course. On the status of the Fordo research site, for instance, for the first time both sides reached an agreement. Compare it to the cosmic gap –  exacerbated by the American wordplay –  on the gradual lifting of sanctions.

This is at the heart of the Viennese diplomatic waltz; what happens after the adoption of an agreement –  what some negotiators define as “operationalization”. Only after the US Congress reviews the deal, “iron-clad guarantees” would be provided that sanctions will be lifted. That’s the much-lauded but still hazy “phase three” –  when the whole US, EU and UN infrastructure of sanctions is supposed to vanish.

There’s the rub –  as a top Iranian official told Asia Times: The main issue for Tehran is how to have complete assurance this complex process will be fully implemented.

What Tehran wants –  according to negotiation insiders –  is to “carry a parallel process”; while Iran fulfills all its nuclear restriction commitments, the US, especially, works to dismantle the “institutionalized process of sanctions”. It’s no secret Washington controls the whole framework. And the secret for a successful deal is that all these details should be explicit in writing.

Negotiation insiders tell Asia Times that on a technical level, in a maximum of three months all the necessary commitments will be fulfilled. Even something like changing the reactor in Arak, which is very costly.

So where’s the big deal? Once again, it amounts to (mis)trust.

Watch the Media Centrifuges

The nuclear negotiations operate at three different levels –  two of them technical, below the Foreign Ministry level. If only we had a neo-Wittgenstein to deconstruct them.

This is all about the US and Iran. The other players are bystanders at most.

Picture Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif occasionally yelling at US Secretary of State John Kerry in the heat of the moment. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei actually stepped into the fray a while ago, warning Zarif to cool it.

The Russians are not as pro-active as they could; it’s as if they’re betting on a winning Eurasian integration hand, deal or no deal. The Chinese say absolutely nothing; a starring passive role. The Germans are quite rational –  even equidistant. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is just a poseur; but his dramatic posturing is far from qualifying him as a neo-Talleyrand. He’s incapable of adding anything of substance.

And then there are the famous red lines. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s were always very clear –  even to US negotiators. And these are not his own personal lines; they represent an Iranian consensus.

What’s certain is that after full immersion in the technicalities of the Viennese drama, what happens according to US corporate media has nothing to do with the real deal at the Palais Coburg.

Involving the US Senate is a setback to Lausanne, as Iranian diplomats see it; “Imagine if it was it the other way around, with everything waiting for the word of the Iranian Parliament. Western media, instead of silent, would be furious.” Spinning the Lausanne fact sheet “created a lot of confusion about Iran’s position”.

So the Americans throwing a spanner in the works, in this case, means the US Senate rendering obsolete any notion of a deadline such as today’s.

Oblivious to reality, media centrifuges keep spinning non-stop. Take the US demand –  three months ago –  to interview eighteen scientists and scholars. It was never agreed at the negotiating table in the first place. So even if that disappeared, it was later resurrected to wager a media war.

Other problematic details are merely suppressed. The additional protocol to the agreement has serious parameters. So, for instance, the famous 5c paragraph states that it’s up to the country that is being inspected to decide whether to allow access or not. The IAEA cannot pry around computers at will, for instance. It’s only entitled to perform environmental sampling.

The Sanctions on the Freudian Divan

Iran’s diplomats are absolutely adamant on changing the “culture of sanctions” –  and the massive, concurrent psychological effect that conditions any company, even in Asia, that decides to do business with Iran. Iranian negotiators advance this might take at least six months of hard work. And they are ready to admit the issue at least is still on the table with the Americans.

There are so many mind-boggling questions to tackle in detail. No one knows yet, for instance, about Iranian liquidity spread across different banks. Iran has arguably $110 billion frozen around the world. Rumors that these funds could be diverted “to proxies” by Tehran are met with derision even by European diplomats.

So what if there’s no deal? Zarif already said, on the record, it won’t be the end of the world. That’s because Iran –  and Iranians –  worked steadily on building a “resistance economy” (and no wonder the Supreme Leader theorized about “heroic flexibility”). As an Iranian official tells it, “the US knows very well that sanctions did not affect Iran. The architects of the Iranian sanctions were sure that Iran would collapse by the end of 2012 at the most. And we would be consumed by social unrest.”

None of that happened, of course. So we’re back to the media centrifuges madly spinning. Here’s a classic, out on the eve of D-Day.

AFP put out a story this Monday titled, US says system reached to allow American access to suspected Iran sites. Iranian officials describe it as “deliberate misinformation to influence the negotiation table”. They admit it might be, at best, “an American idea”. But this was never negotiated, because it bears no relation with the nuclear issue.

No wonder AFP got a “knock on the door” from the French Foreign Ministry only minutes after the story was out, as Asia Times has learned. In less than an hour, the language was drastically changed, as in “global powers negotiating with Iran have put forward proposals …” By then, the initial –  false –  narrative had gone viral in every major newspaper around the world.

On June 22, also in an AFP piece, the grandstanding Fabius had outlined his three-pointer for a deal; a “robust accord … that includes limiting Iranian capacity of research and development”; a “verification regime including, if necessary, military sites”; and allowing the “automatic return of sanctions in case of Iranian violations”.

The additional protocol does not contemplate any inspection of military sites. The record shows that Iran, twice, and voluntarily, provided access to the military site of Parchin in 2005. And all questions about the site were resolved by the IAEA.

No wonder Iranian officials now harbor “serious doubts about the intentions of those who are pushing for access to defense installations”. There are no precedents, except the run-up towards the war on Iraq. In that case, the US government totally despised the IAEA, because the decision to launch Shock and Awe had already been made.

Political Will, Anybody?

This is just a sample of what Iranian negotiators qualify as “a lot of differences” preventing a deal. Every insider in Vienna knows that the US government spins, “Iran needs the deal” while we, the United States, “want the deal”. Iranian officials stress that Lausanne provided the necessary infrastructure for peaceful uranium enrichment, even with severe restrictions. But the US government badly wants Iran to have only “symbolic” enrichment.

Thus the formulation by an Iranian diplomat; “The Americans are showing buyer’s remorse after the Lausanne talks”. And the stonewalling. And the media centrifuges spinning like mad. And the non-stop reinforcement of the Wall of Mistrust –  an infernal mechanism with its own non-Wittgenstein logic all geared up to setting up Iran as the fall guy in case of a potential, monumental failure.

So does the Obama administration really want a fair deal –  their only foreign policy success? Or is this just yet another elaborate case of “who’s in charge” –  a hyperpower avid to prove its unmatched “credibility”?

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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